The Noahâ€™s Ark Ordinance â€“ thatâ€™s what I call the local code forbidding us to adopt a third cat.
Think your landlordâ€™s anti-pet policies were merely a memory when you became a homeowner? Think again. Simple Internet searches revealed number-of-animal limits are not uncommon across the country. The town that borders mine considers more than three cats or dogs to be a â€œkennel,â€ in violation of local statute. (Residents there can have three cats or three dogs or a combination of the two animal types, as long as the total number doesnâ€™t exceed three.)
In my city, itâ€™s a two-per-type limit per dwelling unit. My husband and I can have two cats, two dogs, two bunnies, two reptiles, two birds AND two hamsters, but we cannot have three or more cats in our home according to our townâ€™s municipal code, even though we have no other pets. We can add two sweet Great Danes to our two kitties. I can birth 10 children if weâ€™d like, creating life from scratch, but no more cats allowed here unless we want the risk of fines or even court costs.
Puzzled, I used the contact form on the townâ€™s Web page to ask my first question: Is this ordinance still in force? Yes, but they do not actively search for violators. Most complaints come in as a result of cats running loose, which violates the leash law ordinance, so if I keep my cats indoors I would probably never hear from them.
This is no comfort to me, a person raised to worship rules by a well-intentioned mother who implied my overdue library book could bring shame to our entire family. I would worry, I responded, that some nosy person might see three kitty faces at a window and call animal control. We cannot adopt another cat until the ordinance is changed, or until we move.
Changing the ordinance is my goal, and I hope all such ordinances will be extinguished, or at least reshaped into something logical and reasonable. (If youâ€™re interested in taking a similar path to change, you can start by checking your local limits, if any. Visit your townâ€™s Web site or contact city hall to locate a printed copy of your ordinances.)
I am in a good position to request a review of the ordinance because we have only two cats. If our pet-family exceeded the limit, an attorney might help me decide whether to ask a friend with fewer pets to initiate the review. The city council chamber is the place where such ordinances can be amended â€“ not the courtroom.
My husband grew up here, but neither of us remembered seeing council membersâ€™ names except on a ballot. I am asking friends if they know anyone on the council, preferably someone who likes pets. If not, since dogs or cats were not mentioned in any of the council membersâ€™ online biographies, I will check the list of board members at the local Humane Society and similar organizations.
When a town official referenced leash law complaints as a way inspectors discover number-of-animal violations, I realized ordinances already exist to tackle true problems â€“ such as Fido infringing on the property rights of his neighbors. Hoarding is a tragedy, laced with crimes of cruelty and neglect easily addressed through existing ordinances and laws. Barking? Covered. Biting? Handled in the same set of ordinances.
Our Noahâ€™s Ark Ordinance creates more questions than it answers. What happens if a person with two dogs marries or moves in with someone who has two dogs? Why does our town, with a beautiful dog park serving as a testament to its love for animals, allow three dogs per person in the park, but only two per home? Why is this ordinance on the books if it is not actively enforced? Does the council know how many dogs and cats were listed as euthanized by our county animal control in its 2006 annual report, along with millions of others euthanized each year in American shelters? (That number, by the way, is 647, though the report does not specify how many animals were DOA, etc.) Do vets agree with this ordinance? Does the local Humane Society?
Is this ordinance necessary?
A 2004 article in American City and County highlights and refutes some of the reasoning behind pet limits. More pets do not automatically increase trouble, nor do pet limits automatically increase the quality of care each household offers.
I thought cats were happiest living solo, and some are. However, books such as The Healing Touch for Cats by Dr. Michael W. Fox, a vet and former vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, helped me see cats as social animals who may benefit emotionally and physically from the stimulation of feline companionship.
While searching for our second cat, I met wonderful people who cared for four, six or even eight cats. Laverne is nervous by nature, so a foster-based rescue director suggested sweet and happy Beatrice, who would not intimidate her. (Both pictured above)
After a few weeks, the cats sat next to each other watching birds as I wondered if Beatrice would enjoy a more spirited kitty-buddy for some of her adventures. Laverne prefers passive activities or chasing her toys alone during our play sessions. I didnâ€™t imagine a home with 10 cats, but I did see us with three or four, sooner or later. Then I read an ordinance which shows my preference for four cats over two dogs plus two cats could make me a disobedient citizen.
Maybe two cats are our destiny. But I hope that destiny also includes a new freedom â€“ the freedom to choose how much furry joy we invite into our lives and into our care.
Photo: Candace Schilling